In KL Going’s The Liberation of Gabriel King, Gabe has to face his fears. And he has lots of them: spiders, his best friend Frita’s brother, jumping from the rope swing into the river, going into fifth grade. His list goes on and on. The book is extraordinary, in my opinion. Paralleling Gabe’s journey to liberate himself from his fears is the historically accurate, emotionally charged, and deeply moving journey of Frita, her family and the rest of their community to liberate themselves from the oppression of racism.
That entwining of the two—the mundane personal struggle with the striking social, political (and yes, personal) struggle—is well worth a blog post in and of itself. Maybe one for another time. Right now, though, I want to focus on Gabe. At one point in the story, he has dinner at Frita’s house, and Frita’s father gives an impromptu lesson about oppression. Gabe understands it immediately and fully, and he retells a story his own father had told him, about a group called the White Citizen’s Council and how Jimmy Carter had stood up to them and what the black community must have felt. Gabe says, “I bet they felt some oppressed, and they must have had to be real brave.” And Frita’s mother responded, “I think we’ve got ourselves another Peace Warrior.”
And this is, indeed, true. Despite Gabe’s outwardly meek and subservient behavior—his outward landscape—he has a secret identity tucked away inside. He is a Peace Warrior. And this got me thinking about just how many people have a secret identity like that on the landscape of the inside. Lots of us do. And sometimes it is even secret from our own selves. My daughter, Zory, is a perfect example of someone with that kind of dual landscape. She is in the process of identifying the internal, secret one and then learning how to bring it to the outside. As someone who is close to Zory; who can see the outward landscape but who knows what is just waiting to grow from the inside to the outside, I have been thinking hard on how to identify that inner landscape. I have to look beyond the biggest outward characteristics (raised voice, let’s say, or quick body movements…ummmm…think temper tantrum) and search, instead, for the smaller, more subtle ones. Ones like a single deep breath in the middle of the tantrum or a split second eye contact or an almost imperceptible reach of the hand. These are the windows into that inner landscape. The natural, organic one hoping to burst forth.
I wonder how this duality parallels the landscape around us. The obvious example is the volcano ready to erupt. The less obvious ones are the flowers and plants about to push through the earth just before spring. What are others? And how can we use these overt and hidden landscapes in our stories?